What makes a player great in the playoffs?
Winning titles can’t be all that matters. Basketball is, after all, a team sport. No matter how well an individual performs, he isn’t earning any hardware without support from the players surrounding him.
But team success also has to factor in, and that’s why Playoff Score contains two distinct elements: Individual Score and Advancement Share. Together, they give credit to contributors for longevity, performance and team success (adjusted for their impact on the proceedings).
Longevity is represented by games played—a rather simple way to measure how long a player’s postseason career lasted. Some standouts made a number of deep runs into the playoffs over a shorter period of time. But purely in terms of longevity, that shouldn’t be any more valuable than a plethora of early exits over a lengthy stretch.
Individual performance is measured by looking at Game Score, a John Hollinger creation that takes box-score figures and produces a singular output meant to function on the same scale as points. A game score of 10 is considered average, while 40 is outstanding. Even though this is a more simplistic metric with notable flaws, we’re using Game Score rather than Total Points Added because it allows us to analyze players who suited up before 1974. No rankings of playoff performers would be complete without looking at Bill Russell, for example.
Individual Score is a simple calculation: We multiply a player’s average Game Score by the number of postseason contests in which he participated. As such, these three players will receive the same score:
- Player A has an average Game Score of 20.0, earned over the course of a single five-game series.
- Player B has an average Game Score of 10.0, but he played in 10 contests during a single postseason before elimination.
- Player C has an average Game Score of 2.0, and he suited up 50 times over the course of multiple seasons.
Advancement Share is a bit more complicated.
Players receive up to 50 points for reaching the conference finals, 100 for making the NBA Finals and 250 for winning a championship, and the share of those totals is based on their minutes played. For example, LeBron James played 39.1 minutes per game during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 title run, so he earns 203.65 points for the championship (39.1/48 times 250). Dahntay Jones, meanwhile, earns just 17.19 points for the same feat (3.3/4 times 250).
Adding together Individual Score and Advancement Share gives us Playoff Score. You can rank rather well if you never experienced much team success but thrived as an individual for a long time (Chris Paul, for example), but you can also do the same if you were a role player on one successful squad after another (Derek Fisher).
For WNBA calculations, two important variations exist. Games only last for 40 minutes, and the Advancement Share is adjusted accordingly. Additionally, the fewer number of games required to advance deep into the playoffs led us to eliminate credit for making the conference finals; only those who advanced to the NBA Finals or won a championship received boosts to their Advancement Shares.